LITTER is blighting Taunton’s streets – and it’s a problem polluting dreams of an ambitious ‘vision’ for the county town.
That’s the message from Taunton business figures who are on the warpath because they claim a “general malaise” has affected the upkeep and maintenance of the town’s streets and public spaces.
Leading the charge is Alan Garbutt, a Taunton resident of 38 years who lives in Hammet’s Wharf, overlooking the River Tone near Morrisons.
The former management and distribution operations consultant says the state of the town’s streets has unquestionably declined since he first arrived and his concerns have prompted him to regularly check the scale of Taunton’s litter problems.
He says he has repeatedly raised the issue with Taunton Deane Council, particularly after high-profile town centre events, including the last two Dragon Boat Races.
And the threat to the town’s reputation was thrown into stark relief on the morning of rock legend Rod Stewart’s Taunton concert, says Mr Garbutt, when he found the streets strewn with rubbish just hours before 18,000 ticket holders arrived in town.
Mr Garbutt, with Taunton Rugby Club chairman John Wrelton, Castle Hotel proprietor Kit Chapman and Taunton School headmaster John Newton, is seeking answers – and a solution – from the Deane Council, which is responsible for street cleaning.
The four are members of Taunton Forward, a taskforce wanting to improve the business, shopping, tourism and leisure offer to visitors, and put the town’s ‘brand’ on the map.
“I couldn’t believe what I saw outside Nando’s, I was so incensed,” said Mr Garbutt.
“I had steam coming out of my ears.
“I was shocked, annoyed, angry – we had 18,000 people showing up and this was what they were going to see.
“There was a coachload of tourists, and you could tell from their expressions they weren’t impressed.”
TauntonForward took photos showing rubbish scattered across North Street, Fore Street and Hammet Street that morning.
Mr Chapman has since taken to Twitter to confront Nando’s, calling for the fast food chain to “clean up [its] act in #Taunton”.
In response, the council tweeted: “Reported and cleared early am. Working with business to sort their waste probs #keeptauntontidy”.
Yet Mr Garbutt and his colleagues argue that the Rod Stewart litter saga points to a far greater problem – a lack of vision by Taunton Deane and a strategy that involves merely taking action when, as Mr Garbutt puts it, “the guano hits the fan”.
Taunton Deane Council countered TauntonForward’s criticisms, arguing that the county town as a whole – traders, the public and the authorities – is responsible for keeping Taunton tidy.
A spokesman said: “The council believes it’s important to lead by example and would be delighted to support a campaign to keep Taunton tidy that the County Gazette, other local media or individuals might consider launching.”
The spokesman also said the failure of some businesses to properly manage disposal of their waste, which was “not a service the council is responsible for”, was unfairly levelled as a council failing.
The spokesman said: “It becomes a perceived failing and a cost to the council when traders don’t take enough care of their waste disposal provision.”
Contrary to projections of a continued squeeze on the council budget for the Direct Labour Organisation, which is responsible for street cleaning and emptying litter bins, the spokesman clarified that the Deane Council is, in fact, investigating whether it could inject more money – not less – into street cleaning to keep Taunton “as neat as possible”.
Deane Council deputy leader Cllr Mark Edwards, formerly executive councillor for environmental services, said: “We all want to see our environment as crisp and clean as possible, and I plead with anyone thinking of littering to stop and think about what they’re doing. There really is no excuse.
“With regard to companies not dealing responsibly with their waste, the onus is on them to deal with it accordingly, and I can’t see how they can see any benefit in doing otherwise.”
The DLO has staff working “in all areas of the borough” who are put to task depending on the volume of litter which needs tackling, said the council.
It added that its current employment of two dedicated street cleaners, working seven days a week in the town centre, was higher than in any other area.
Yet Mr Wrelton, also managing partner at Wilkie May & Tuckwood estate agents, said more investment was needed, dubbing the state of Taunton’s pavements and verges “a complete disgrace”.
He said: “There are so few resources put towards such simple operations.
“If the town looked pristine the positive benefit to the shopping and leisure experience may attract better investors to the myriad of empty properties.
“The blame game passes between the council, retailers and then collectors of waste as to who’s responsible for the mindless procedure of leaving waste out in front of retail premises overnight for the attention of passing vagrants, seagulls and anyone else who chooses to enjoy kicking the bags around.”
Nando’s told the County Gazette this week: “We’re fully committed to keeping the area outside the restaurant tidy and we’ll be doing everything possible to ensure that this happens each day.
“We’re in talks with Bywaters to increase the number of waste collections per week, which currently stands at three.”
The Deane Council, with the Somerset Waste Partnership, is urging traders to store waste properly to stop rubbish spilling on to the streets.
Cllr James Hunt, the council’s environmental services portfolio holder, said: “We all want to see a clean and tidy town centre, and we all need to do our bit.
“People can help by using litter bins, reporting incidents to us so we can take relevant action and taking a pride in the town.”
The council spokesman added: “Traders and town centre businesses can do much to help by not putting out waste overnight, leaving it a target for vermin.
“If that isn’t possible it should be stored securely.
“Plenty of advice is available to the commercial sector on how to deal with the waste that’s inevitably generated in a busy and active town centre.
“Businesses can seek advice if they have difficulties with waste storage and take simple, practical steps to prevent problems arising, such as not putting out waste overnight or keeping it in secure bins.”
Mr Newton told the County Gazette: “There needs to be a bit of ‘extra mile’ here – we need civic support.
“Taunton’s an immensely attractive town and these sorts of details let us down.
“TauntonForward is here to be a critical friend, but the great thing is that we want to be part of the answer and see the town prosper.”